Simple Things

“In mathematics the complicated things are reduced to simple things. So it is in painting.”

– Thomas Eakins

I found this quote as I was contemplating simplicity and immediately thought of our friend, Miki. She is that rare union of mathematical and artistic passion in the same person. So this post is dedicated to her…

As I work on these abstract monoprints, I am constantly trying to decide what needs to be included and when I’m done. There is a lot of ability to layer and to remove with this technique, so I can keep going on a piece – often until I’ve made it way too complicated. My favorite pieces are those that have some strong patterns or shapes floating in an interesting field of color and texture. I often reach a stage where I like what I’ve done, but something seems to be missing. This may that “crisis” point in a painting that Danu has talked about, the point of departure for many pieces, where they either head in the direction of “success” or the direction of permanent storage, or worse.

Simple doesn’t necessarily mean fewer elements in the painting. I think that each piece has a natural order that it can handle – some pieces may have more going on in them, but for each there is some point at which it is not longer “simple”, where the fundamental nature of the piece has been exceeded in some way. I know intuitively when that has happened, usually fairly soon after I’ve reached that stage (it’s a disappointing realization!). I don’t think this is a rational process, but one more of feeling, based on the inner motivations, inspirations, intentions and reactions the artist has toward the piece.

In mathematics, reduction of complexity to a simple and elegant proof is described as “beautiful”. So it is in painting…

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6 responses to “Simple Things

  1. Well Bob, I will come back a little bit later to your post, but right now I want to thank you with all my heart and my artistic /mathematical passion. As i read the quote, I immediately heard a scream within myself:
    “Yeah, that’s exactly that!”
    The simplicity! The simplicity and the purity! This is exactly what I so deeply love in maths. And the elegance. The elegance of the abstract constructions, of the definitions and classifications of the interactions, the immense beauty of a theorem proof… oh God, here we go again! I should rather stop. I am far more emotionally (and intellectually anyway) involved in maths than in art, this might be the reason why i say i never felt inspired in art.

    But as I said, i will come back later on to think about simplicity in art…

  2. Yes, I would have to agree that there are some commonalities within the fields of mathematics and art but a lot less than most mathematical artists think.
    Nice Blog by the way.
    Cheers,
    Kaz

  3. I used to love math too – way, way back in school times! Now i just love it when my check book balances.

    And when a painting gets balanced. I strive always for simplicity in my paintings and it constantly eludes me. ANd if I were to ask my self why – at the moment the answer would be that there are constantly all these stories coming out of me and onto the paper/canvas. To finish a piece I have to finally pick just one.

  4. I hate Maths!
    With any painting activitey it is always a question of when to stop.
    you always want to go on that bit further!
    Also Maths is logical and cold whereas painting comes from wihin and is never predictanle and mats has rules and is always done a certaian way with one answere.Art comes from the heart ad human spirit.
    (notice I spell Math, Matgs……the English way!

  5. Oh Dear!

    I just came here to have a great time with you all discussing about mathematics and art, and the whole thing suddenly turned into a virulent discussion with Kevin, who, like Chris and most of the people in this world, HATE maths!
    I am not able to discuss Maths in a quiet, unemotional way as I had to fight all my life against this idea that Maths is soooo cold, soooo predictable, soooo boring, without any beauty, etc. When I hear this it deeply hurts me.
    I daresay that people, who claim that, have no TRUE idea what they are speaking about. They don’t know what Maths really is. They have NEVER entered all the wonderful spaces and constructs within them… they just know about counting apples and about logarithms, more or less…. and this is way beyond the reality of maths!

    But I will stop here speaking about Maths, as it is not the theme here, in fact. But I will swear something here: as I started doing maths, as I was very young, and later too, it came directly from my heart and spirit, and even deeper, the heart and the spirit of the Universe!

    I am amazed too about the statement:
    “Yes, I would have to agree that there are some commonalities within the fields of mathematics and art but a lot less than most mathematical artists think.”
    How we can we know that? How much do we really know about the inner processes of doing art and doing maths?
    I don’t know if I am a mathematical artist (no idea what that means) but I believe that there is in fact a lot of similarities in both processes.

    I don’t know if a painting has to be simple to be good art. I think there is a tendency to think in this direction in our modern world. I would not say either that most of the mathematical proofs are simple! They are damned complicated and difficult and demand a huge amount of work, intuition, and creativity. like art. The simplicity appears only if we dissect the proof in each of its steps when it has been found. The simplicity is perhaps only the fact that it is logical. Logics seems so simple most of the time. But again, logic underlies very complicated rules, and there even exists many different kinds of logic, each more complicated than the next.
    A difference between maths and art is that in maths the crisis point does not exist. But crises do exist, and they are generally much more complex than one point!

    I don’t know really what makes simplicity in art. It is not the quantity of elements only, but I think it is a part too. For me simplicity in a painting or drawing is when the aim is reached with only few means. And normally it goes quite hand in hand with the quantity of elements painted. It has to do too with the purity of the lines, shapes, colours, composition, etc. It has to do with transparency too, transparency of the creation process.
    But I can find very complicated pieces very beautiful too. Complication in colours or textures for example.

    Enough for now!

    And Bob, thanks again for this wonderful blog!

  6. Great discussion guys and gals! I love math and art and have thought about their relationship before too. I actually have an idea for some paintings I want to do related to directly to this. Usually for me though my compositions are not thought out too far in advance, and are not usually simplified. Or I guess you could say ‘simplified’ in the sense of having an overall connected feeling, but at least in my non-objective painting anyways I pack a lot of busy detail into the work. Some people don’t like this obviously, but hey it’s my work right? Lol.

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